Like A Dirty Toilet, NAR Scrubbed Their Membership Stats Clean

  • NAR Scrubbed Their Website Of All Membership Data
  • Membership Totals May Be Subject To Collapse
  • Public Resources Relied On Such As Existing Home Sales At Risk

As long as I can remember, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shared their membership numbers. Through February of 2024, the public, press, and members could download their membership data. Recently I discovered that NAR had scrubbed its website of all this data.

I recognize the organization’s status as a trade group which means their raison d’etre is to advocate for their members. I saw this practice of sharing membership numbers as providing a “dusting” of informational integrity from an organization motivated to show the positive.

But the NAR settlement fallout from the Sitzer/Burnett class action decision put these membership numbers in the spotlight. Industry observers like myself have predicted a plunge in membership over the next two to three years as a result of litigation. The impact of the settlement is not clear because it continues to be an evolving story. Many real estate brokerage firms touched by the litigation, agreed to drop their requirement for agents to become NAR members. And if the ongoing litigation flood continues to move in this direction, there will be more fallout. The next focus seems to be on clarifying the practice of “steering” clients.

MLS systems across the U.S. require agents to join NAR in order to gain access to listing databases so it remains one of the largest sources of new members. I think of these MLS-sign-up real estate professionals as ghost members because they don’t need or rely on the services of NAR. Rather they just want access to their MLS and are required to sign-up for it in order to access the local MLS. If or when MLS systems drop the requirement or are forced to rethink this requirement, a large chunk of these ghost accounts – dues-paying members that don’t interact with NAR whatsoever, will go away.

Earlier this month, NAR’s magazine touted that NAR Membership Remains Steady Notwithstanding Slower Home Sales and stated their membership was over 1,500,000. The headline was an obvious attempt using pretzel logic to show that everything was ok. The “1.5 million” number is everywhere in NAR marketing materials.

Membership cracked the 1,600,000 threshold in October 2022, their highest on record according to data I downloaded from their website a while ago. NAR said at the time that they expected membership to slip with the slowing sales market. This February, membership fell below 1,500,000 to 1,496,707. I realize that their membership has ebbed and flowed with the market for more than a century but I can only guess that it rose seasonally from February to back above the 1.5 million threshold. It looks like I will now have to take NAR’s word for it without seeing their numbers. That’s a credibility problem.

If there is nothing to see, then why would NAR scrub its site of all membership data but leave the headline number of 1.5 million? And then it became obvious. They are anticipating a significant drop in membership as I have talked about before and are simply preparing for that day, reducing source of potential criticism. I had had postulated a while back that NAR will lose over 1 million members in the coming years and become a shadow of its former self.

They seem to think that hiding membership data now will help them manage potential bad press or the perception of weakness as an organization. Nope. The lack of transparency raises all the questions they are seeking to avoid.

If I am correct and NAR membership plummets by two-thirds, what is their value-add? After all, a sharply rediced revenue stream likely won’t be able to support:

  • Advocacy and lobbying – the key selling point of a trade group
  • Research and statistics – invaluable public relations fodder

I suspect membership declines will be faster than cost cutting so operating expenses should soar, relative to revenue.

I have collected their official monthly membership back to 1908 and their annual membership counts back to 1912, downloading it for the last time, apparently, last February before it was scrubbed from their website.

NARs “up and to the right” membership pattern that has been proudly shared for years won’t last much longer.

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